The Great Detective is an archetype often found in classical mystery literature. Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown are the few that pop into one’s mind when the topic comes up. Our fascination with those who feel like superior intellects has yet to wane over time as we still create stories or versions of these same detectives or adhere to the tropes they create. One of the best known Great Detectives of the modern era is surprisingly the video game hero, Professor Layton. An archaeologist with a penchant for solving puzzles and getting oneself into mysteries, Professor Layton has become a bestselling franchise that has appealed to all ages and so why not dedicate a film to the character? This would call for an adventure with an eye for the science fiction, mythological elements and the grandiose nature of something like The Phantom of the Opera known only as Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Will the great Professor Layton land the first good video game adaptation in my search, or will all these aspirations fall short and succumb to being a subpar adventure film that dabbles in a bit of mystery?
The Professor Layton games are known for the puzzles, brain teasers to challenge the mind of those who play them and the movie knows that fact quite well. It creates a narrative based on a battle of the minds, a mysterious host who challenges people who have attended a play to solve his puzzles in order to attain eternal life. To its credit this was probably the only way to make a narrative that adhered well to the gameplay aspect of the game without creating jarring sequence breaks of solving puzzles. The puzzles in game work because you know it’s a game so the way they are given to you often is not done in the most realistic fashion. The movie completely circumvents this by having the main battle for the brunt of the film be a battle of wits against a Moriarty-like antagonist. That way the riddles feel, while still a little bit forced with the awkward cuts to Layton thinking through montages of images, more in tune with the narrative rather than superficially slapped on.
What astounds me is that this is a film based on the series, and yet has its own tale to tell that doesn’t feel exclusive to fans of the game. The spectacle of the film is truly something that breathes life into film through its grandiose set pieces. The grand contraptions like the Crown Petone Opera House turning into a ship, the giant castle standing tall in the middle of an island home the crest of the lost city Ambrosia, and the grand finale that towers over them all is just whimsically entrancing to me. Looking at the design aspects that feel inspired by a sort of Victorian aesthetic mixed with something that feels in the vein of Jules Verne creates endless possibilities. The mystery itself, about the purpose of this test and what it was meant for, the secret behind the lost city of Ambrosia, is a fun one to just sit back and watch unfold.
This grand adventure is accented by one of the best soundtracks I have heard from any video game adaptation. The incorporation of the songs into the overall narrative was effective in displaying both the heartfelt tragedy of those involved and setting the stage for some great action sequences. To say that the life of the film was its music and how well it meshed with the animation with its sweeping angles and great design work is an understatement. One of the greatest things about this film is that you can tell that those involved had a sense of passion towards the project. Time was dedicated to creating the similar tone to the games, the simplistic design schemes of the characters, the animated reactions, the brain teasers. The best example was with the music creating one of the best soundtracks to a film I have heard in a long time. The beauty of some of its songs and how they tie in beautifully to the emotions it was trying to invoke with its tragic story about the loss of someone is sometimes too good for words to explain. The highest praise I could give it is that it feels in some moments like a Ghibli film, the whimsical nature of its narrative and the spectacle was very reminiscent of one of their films.
I never thought I would see such grand displays of adventuristic swashbuckling in a film about a game that was about solving riddles and puzzles. The final half of the film was less about solving the mystery but instead confronting the mastermind in a contraption of his making. Sword-fighting, comedic fist-fighting, and a boy fighting to finally protect someone for once. The mastermind and Layton face off not with words but with swords and it is a surprisingly tense sequence of choreographed flair. It was fast but not choppy, elegant but also vicious and comes to a head in a grand reveal of Ambrosia. The music from the organ-like instrument is haunting and this is where the feeling of The Phantom of the Opera comes in. The science fiction elements take front and center as the Phantom-like antagonist plays the song that should revive the lost city of Ambrosia. While it was obvious from the get go that the city of Ambrosia would play a part in the grand scheme of the film, the reveal of it and the ensuing struggle from our leads is just too much fun. You can get lost in the spectacle and to me I got lost in its charm.
This is where my praise gets watered down however, and that is with the characters themselves. The film as a whole is more about the spectacle than it is about having an effective story filled with substance. It moves briskly from character to character, plot point to plot point without so much as taking a chance to really delve into its characters. Many are caricatures, have slapdash motivations and lack a sense of identity beyond one predominant character trait if they are lucky. Professor Layton of course is the titular archetypical Great Detective, a teacher and a scholar whose main desire is to solve the mystery. Luke is the plucky assistant who wants to discover what it means to be what Layton considers “an English gentleman” following in his footsteps. The villain is a Phantom-like character and a mad scientist who decides to challenge people to a game of his own mechanisations for his own purposes unbeknownst to the participants. Jenis is the only other character I feel besides maybe the grieving Oswald Whistler who has a sense of potential depth behind their actions within the film. Yet all of those feel a bit stale compared to the grand scale of the adventure.
This is more a film to showcase something entertaining than it is to give acceptable development to those involved. These are players in the narrative, but that doesn’t detract how great the narrative can be. The characters all feel rather alive, sometimes that one personality trait can breathe life into flat characters. There was never a moment where I groaned at a performance, groaned at an action of the characters or even was disinterested what was happening on the screen. That’s not to say that the film has its fair share of bloated moments or bad character choices. The many Layton montages of him thinking were a bit jarring and the only time where I thought what I was watching was a game adaptation. Then we have the setting up of motivations for the extra characters who really don’t have anything to them in the grand scheme of things. There is a lot of needless time dedicated to elements of the film that ultimately detract from the flow of the narrative all for the sake of being a “Professor Layton” adaptation and having a cast too large for this short a runtime. There are times where the characters will make you groan with how ignorant or snide they are, making themselves out to be geniuses for solving some puzzles only to lose to simpler ones later on. The inability to keep characters as a consistent high point besides the main cast is the hardest problem one will have while viewing Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva.
This film feels more like an experience that is inclusive rather than exclusive, barring one scene and character which to me also had me a bit confused upon their first reveal. This one point is what sold me on the adventure as a whole as the attempt to shoehorn in elements from the source material has been a consistent problem I have had with video game adaptations in the past. I can say with full confidence that this same problem does not plague the extravagance and narrative grace the film has. Each character feels like they are a part of this world, each one seems to at the very least have a base understanding of the situation and what they want to achieve in the movie and none hold back the greatness of its spectacle. The best way to describe this film is if you mixed Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and a Greek tragedy together and sprinkled in some great Jules Verne-esque science fiction and a dash of Phantom of the Opera’s aesthetic prowess. It is the weirdest mash-up of visual ideas that all work out in the end to create countless moments of wonder, tenderness, swashbuckling brilliance and bittersweet farewells. It encapsulates what a good adventure film should be and I for one have found the bar I should hold other video game adaptations up to.
This movie came completely out of left field for me. To think that the first positive video game adaptation I look at would be one about Professor Layton of all characters. One would have thought that Link or Samus would have gotten their dues way before Layton ever did, but this is the thing about nice surprises. I feel perfectly intent on parading this film around for a while as the little adaptation that could. I’m more at a loss for words than you know and may do another post on the finale to really tie up my feelings on this film. It is hard to see a film, let alone a video game adaptation, to give us both a great depiction of the source material and characters while creating a wonderfully entrancing narrative along with it.
What do you think about Professor Layton? Have you seen this film before and if you have what did you think about it? Feel free to leave a comment down below or recommend me a video game adaptation you think is great or worth seeing either in the comments or send me an email at
and don’t forget to have yourself a fantastically whimsical day!